Your brand is what makes or breaks your business. That is why it is crucial to create one that speaks not only to you but also to your audience. In this episode, John Livesay talks with the global branding expert, disruptor, and innovator, Jenny Fernandez, about some innovative marketing techniques that will see your business’ growth. Sharing more branding secrets behind her success, Jenny lets us in on the crucial role storytelling plays when crafting one of your own. She talks about how stories humanize a brand and drive breakthrough ideas to improve the consumer journey. When creating one, it is important to put it through the lens of the consumer and not just you. Join in on this great conversation to learn more about how to create a good story, one that allows you to reach more and create a bigger impact.
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Branding Secrets: Creating A Good Story With Jenny Fernandez
Our guest is Jenny Fernandez, who’s a global branding expert. She’s worked with such brands as Ritz Crackers, Oreo cookies and Trident gum. She shares stories of how she used innovative marketing techniques for each one.
Jenny is a global brand marketer, a disruptor and innovator driving business teams and organizational transformation to accelerate growth through consumer insights, strategy, media, social and digital marketing, and team empowerment. She has been a leader across many different categories, including CPG and entertainment. She’s working literally around the world from all over North America and Asia. She is a consumer obsessed storyteller. I love storytelling, that’s why I couldn’t wait to have her on. She’s passionate about brands and humanizing data to drive breakthrough ideas to improve the consumer journey. She’s a coach and advisor to business and marketing professionals and startup teams. She’s been a graduate school adjunct professor and she’s got all kinds of expertise in branding, building brands and targeting. Jenny, welcome to the show.
Thank you, John. Thank you for having me here.
We have a lot of mutual friends including the wonderful, Judy Robinett. I want to give a shout out to people who make these great introductions. To reinforce to all the people reading how important it is to continue to build your network so that people clearly understand who you help and what problem you solve. Even if they don’t need you, they can keep you in mind for people who do. With that being said, Jenny, why don’t you take us back to your own story of origin? You can go back to childhood, you can go back to when you were getting your MBA at Northwestern, wherever you’d like. How did you get interested in branding and all that?
I will share that I moved to New York, to the United States when I was twelve. I am from the Dominican Republic. As a little kid, I came to New York and I was impressed by the number of people that I’ve met and the diversity. I have become what I call a global citizen, somebody who’s interested in understanding what moves people, what drives them and knowing that it is an exchange. If you’re able to understand what they want, what they are looking for, then you’re able to deliver on that need. They can pay it back when you do need that back. That’s like what Judy mentioned in terms of driving value and delivering value so that you can get value back later on.
You came here at twelve and then suddenly you decided, “I’m going to go get my MBA in marketing.” You ended up working for Kraft Heinz Company for seven years. Tell us a little bit about what that was like and what lessons you learned there?
I ended up joining Kraft Foods after my graduation from business school from Kellogg School of Management. It was an amazing experience. It was all about people. I had a lot of great alums who introduced me to the school who had attended Kellogg as well. It was a dream job. Imagine being able to talk and market the brands that you grew up with like Oreo cookies and Ritz Crackers, it was amazing in joining that environment and working with agency partners that knew and were champions of the brand and knew how to create a story. They introduced me to the whole idea of storytelling and in being able to, first of all, understand the audience that you’re working with. Understanding the message they want to hear and how they want to hear, it was compelling.Be obsessed with telling stories to consumers. Click To Tweet
Let’s talk about a couple of those brands since it’s a big part of many people’s childhoods, mine included. The Oreo cookie, dunking it in milk, taking it apart and licking off the cream-centered filling. I spoke at the Coca Cola summit for all the CMOs who happen to carry Coca Cola at the quick service restaurants like Domino’s Pizza, etc. I was sharing the stage with another gentleman, Cal Fussman. He spoke for fifteen minutes, I spoke for 30 minutes, then he closed it. He literally described it as, “We’re like an Oreo cookie. I’m the opening and the end, John is the creamy filling.” I thought that’s a brand that’s big in people’s minds that it can now be used as an analogy. I thought you’d love that little story on the Oreo cookie brand. When a brand has been around so long, it becomes a challenge to come up with a fresh story while staying true to its origins. Tell us what you did on the Oreo cookie?
I helped manage the Oreo brand in the Asia Pacific. I moved to China back in 2012. I was managing thirteen countries including China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea and Australia. What was amazing is that every market was in a different life stage for the brand. The product had been in China for twenty years but it was only a four-year-old product in India. It was a different story that we needed to tell. One of the challenges that we have faced in the brand as we were looking to make it a global brand was, we needed to celebrate the 100 year anniversary for Oreo. Can you imagine how do you celebrate 100 years when the brand is just 20 or 4 years old? We went back to thinking, what is it that people love about the brand and what is it in people that drive them? We had this idea of celebration. Who doesn’t love a birthday? We said, “Join us in celebrating and join us in communicating your celebration of Oreo.” We got so much content and many beautiful videos. It was a great program put together with information from the consumer. That was amazing.
That’s the a-ha moment, everybody who’s reading. When you’re going to promote something, you need to put it through the lens of the consumer and not just you. I heard Geoff Cottrill, who had been the CMO of Converse, and they were having an anniversary and talking to their target market. He said, “What do you think of that?” I said, “It makes you seem old. Unless there’s something in it for us, why do we care, even around 100 years or whatever it was?” The fact that it becomes a birthday celebration and show us how you’re celebrating and having people submit social media content is great. That leads me right to the question, what do you think makes a good story? When you’re looking at all these contents and you’re deciding, “Of all these stories that we’re hearing, which ones are we going to promote on our social media?” What makes a good story, whether you’re creating it for the brand or you’re getting a story from your consumer?
It’s understanding what is the universal DNA that brings all consumers together. If you understand how they relate to the brand, then you can cut across cultures, across markets, across the social status. It’s about the humanity in us and what are they seeing in the brand.
Storytelling tags at the heartstrings. It transcends class and culture when we all relate to it. We know what it’s like to have a birthday, we know what it’s like to be happy, etc. Do you have a story you can share on what you did on Ritz Crackers, since that’s another big brand that you worked on and people know?
For Ritz, it was more about innovation. Ritz is a product that consumers use almost like a bread replacement. It’s a little sandwich. They create special recipes. They took the brand in a different place. We wanted Ritz to be a hand to mouth product and snack, but they decided to use it with cheese, with other more substantial ingredients. I was working in breakthrough innovation team and I wanted to leverage technology, the pop-up copying technology, to create a product that was going to be light, airy and hand-to-mouth eating, almost like a chip that we could attract younger consumers that were more on the go and wanted convenience products. They just wanted to put their hands in the bag and start eating. That was my main focus.
I used to eat Ritz Crackers with peanut butter. I don’t know if that’s just me or if other people did that too. Let’s talk about what your definition of innovation is and how that relates to brand marketing. If you’re trying to reach a younger market, how do you reach them in an innovative way? Let’s do Ritz as a story. Typically, marketing sits in scenarios where you give a brief for people who haven’t worked in this and say, “Here’s our target market. Here’s the problem we’re trying to solve. Either they’re not using us for snacking, they don’t know about us, we’re not on their radar or the marketing channel we’re using isn’t reaching them.” What did you do to be innovative to reach people?
If you don’t mind, I’ll talk about a different brand. I was working on Trident Gum. The gum business was interesting because we hadn’t spoken to an entire generation. We were trying to use product innovation in a way that wasn’t true to the brand. We were doing dessert flavors and trying to find replacements for sweet snacks and chocolates through our gum. That’s not why the consumer bought our brand. The consumers told us, “We want Trident because it is functional, because it’s going to clean my teeth.” Do you remember the commercial four out of five?
Yes, recommended. It’s not a substitute for a piece of cake or a cookie.
It’s about making you feel confident than when you need a clean mouthfeel. You are going to have one. We went back to basics and we communicated and partnered with the women’s soccer team for the World Cup. That was an amazing partnership because we were leveraging another brand, the soccer brand that talked to the same consumer we wanted to reach again. When you do a brand partnership like that, you’re basically borrowing equity.
People think fresh breath, you want to be having that for kissing. You went a completely different way around confidence and women who are playing a sport. It’s not the traditional, “This woman is concerned about her fresh breath for a kiss. These are women who are wanting to be healthy and confident. We’re tapping into that energy,” which is completely different. That’s a great example of innovation. Do you have any other stories of co-branding? That particular topic fascinates me where brands borrow the equity of another brand. It makes it a win-win for both. If you have any other stories of that, I’d love to hear them.
I’ll go back to Oreo. We did it an entire global partnership with Paramount, where we were working with Transformers 4, the movie. It was controversial internally because people thought, “Why do you want to do a brand that is about fighting and wars in space with a wholesome cookie?” Frankly, if you think back to the bigger picture, Transformers the movie came years ago. That was the origin of that movie. The kids that grew up watching transformers are the parents who are bringing their kids now. It’s a full circle. It was perfect because it’s about understanding who the consumer is. It catered to the entire family. The teenagers in the US that bought all the stuff were loving the movie, so did the moms who wanted to bring their young kids and have all their products that were more sensible within the Oreo brand. It allowed us to have an entire partnership globally that every market can get behind. Talk about the power of big and small, when you’re able to bring all of the markets within one brand and have a great program that returns on investments.
You’re also involved in the startup world. Tell us a little bit about that and what advice you have for people who are starting a brand and looking for funding. What do they need to do to make sure that they get funding from investors in terms of branding?If you understand how consumers relate to the brand, then you can cut across cultures, markets, and social status. Click To Tweet
I have a great interest in the startup world. You love coaching, I’m sure. Marshall Goldsmith has said, “What got you here will not get you there.” The skillset and the grit that somebody has to build their own business is different from the skillsets that they need in order to scale it up. When you need to level up yourself on your business, you need to be able to go to the biggest distributors, the big retailers like Target or Walmart and present a big pitch and present their case and be able to say, “Why am I going to invest in you and bring you in-house?” It all goes back to when you have a bigger decision to make on a bigger scale. You have to have a great understanding of who your consumer is. What is your true value proposition and how you differentiate versus your competition so that you can make a case for that?
The traditional way of getting into these stores was first, how many stores do I get tested in? Where on the shelf, am I? Am I at the bottom, the middle, or the top? Now with digital, it becomes a whole another way of branding. Can you speak to that? You need both channels, I’m assuming. You’re going to need to be sold in the grocery stores, in the Walmarts of the world. You also need to have some online presence or even beyond Amazon at least.
Direct to consumer is an amazing channel. You can have your own media. You have your own website. If you can partner with the likes of Amazon, you’re able to be where the eyeballs are. You don’t have to attract consumers to you. The consumers are already there. It’s great to have that kind of partnership. You can leverage social media and paid media to generate a lot of excitement about your brand. PR has become more and more a big powerful tool for startups to generate interest, not only from consumers but also from investors and retailers.
Let’s talk about PR because I think that’s an overlooked nugget. If you do it right, unlike the advertising which you have to pay for, it can be great on a pitch deck to give credibility and some social proof that you’ve been covered in Fortune or Inc. or whatever it is. What suggestions do you have for people? It’s pitching in a different way. What lessons have you experienced? I can certainly share mine but I’d love to hear yours of what it takes to get a journalist interested in you? Is it a sound bite? Is it thinking about it in terms of what’s interesting to their readers versus them trying to sell their product? What are your thoughts on how does a startup gets good PR?
There are two different ways or avenues that a startup can pursue. One is having a great founder story. That can be a way for you to position yourself as a founder, as somebody who is an expert in the field, somebody who’s innovative and creative, and somebody who has something valuable to say. I would definitely recommend founders to start building an amazingly compelling story. They can put it on their website. They can send as a PR kit to reporters. For themselves, to get themselves into conferences so that they can start talking about their business. They can start building personal brands. That’s a great way to have a PR angle.
Another one would be about the actual product or service that they’re delivering. For that, it has to have a good anchor. They want to talk about innovation that’s coming up and how their value proposition is leading edge. They have the ability to speak to reporters or speak to magazines and tell them why their business is leading in that area. They can do that proactively either by hiring an agency, but if they want to go bootstrapping, anything from HARO, Help A Reporter Out. They have their own media kit and article to start creating free valuable media on Medium or Thrive to have the ability to create a sexy story that talks about why their product or service is differentiated.
Do you have an example or a story of someone you’ve consulted with that has done a good job of this?
Not somebody that I consulted, but a friend and a guest speaker to one of my classes at NYU, this is Ju Rhyu. She’s the CEO of Hero Cosmetics, which is a Korean patch that you use to heal acne. She has an amazing story. She was visiting Korea for vacation, and she had a bit of a breakout. She found these amazing products that she had never been exposed to in the US. She thought, “How can we not have this?” She decided to leave Corporate America and go on her own and bring that back. She started sending out these PR kits and working with a small bootstrap agency to create a message and to showcase why her product was differentiated. You can have the unveiling of those boxes where you see the product and you try it out. Getting influencers is a great way to do so. You can show the consumer how does it work and why is it effective. You can have a brand ambassador talk about your product.
One of the tips I’d love to leave everyone who’s reading this with is work on coming up with a sound bite because the media loves sound bites as a hook when you’re being interviewed either on camera or for an article. One that’s worked well for me is, “Are you stuck in the friend zone at work?” Both Fortune and Inc. interviewed me around that question because it grabs your brain. You’re like, “I know what the friend zone is in dating. What does it look like to be in the friend zone at work?” Three signs you’re in it and three signs to get out. It can be that basic but it pulls people into the article, then I quote me as the author that is selling through storytelling and a sales keynote speaker who’s helping people craft a story.
A lot of people in sales have been stuck in the friend zone at work with clients. It all ties together in that way. Having your founder’s story is important to take people on a journey that answers two big questions, which is why you and why now? When you have those things in a PR pitch, it also pulls in the reporters. Remember, the press is always concerned about, why now? It’s all about what’s going on now. You need to have that as part of your overall messaging. It’s the same thing when you’re doing a call to actions with consumers. Why now? Why do you need to get an Oreo cookie to celebrate our birthday or your own birthday, whatever it is? What’s next for you, Jenny?
What I’m looking to do is continue to partner with entrepreneurs that I can help them scale up their business, scale up their careers. Something that I tell a lot of them is you don’t have to be the best. You don’t have to have the best product but you have to outlast your competition.
It’s like the TV show Survivor.
That’s right. At the end of the day, it’s not about being first to market. It’s about delivering great value and a great product that answers the consumer need. This is what gets to the crux of it. You have to have a great value proposition. You can communicate and that can be accessed by consumers. That’s why both direct to consumer marketing and getting distribution in big retailers is the way not only to provide that access but even to amp up your marketing.The skillset and the grit that somebody has to build their own business is different from the skillsets they need to scale it up. Click To Tweet
Any last thought, quote or book you’d like to recommend?
There are a couple of books that I would love to recommend. One is Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I do believe there is a sense of coaching and growth mindset that all of us need to have in order to scale up and level up our careers and businesses. That’s something I recommend to everyone. Judy Robinett with her networking book, because you have to have value to add to the networking mindset. One of the experiences and the questions that I ask my entrepreneurs and the people I work with is, “Do you feel a little dirty after going to networking events?” Most people do because it becomes a power struggle where you don’t have the upper hand. If you wait to network until you need something, you’re too late.
Judy’s books, it’s How To Be A Power Connector and her new one, Crack The Funding Code. I feel the same way about selling. Nobody wants to be pushy. The joy of becoming a storyteller is that you pull people in instead of pushing. How can people find you, Jenny?
Thank you so much for being such an insightful guest and sharing these stories of specific brands that we all know and love, and what you’ve been able to do around the world. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Thank you so much, John. I appreciate it.
- Jenny Fernandez
- Judy Robinett
- Hero Cosmetics
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
- How To Be A Power Connector
- Crack The Funding Code
- LinkedIn – Jenny M Fernandez
- Better Selling Through Storytelling Method online course
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